Taking Its Time
by Shonda Talerico Dudlicek
The aseptic packaging market is making a gradual climb while waiting to finally click with more consumers.
It would be too simple to say that significant natural disasters and rising energy costs have contributed to the rise in popularity of aseptic packaging. Aseptic packagers say these unique containers have been gaining momentum in the United States over the past few years.
“It is true that recent events like increased hurricane activity or rising energy costs have brought more attention to our carton core packaging,” says Giovanna Prestes Lemos, marketing and communication manager, Tetra Pak Inc., Vernon Hills, Ill. “But carton aseptic packaging has been growing in the U.S. for many years now, suggesting that the interest is not just a short-term phenomenon. Manufacturers and consumers are seeking out affordable sustainable packaging solutions.”
Tetra Pak supplies complete integrated processing, packaging and distribution lines as well as stand-alone equipment, tested to ensure optimal function.
“Aseptic processing and packaging are strategic technologies that companies enter to differentiate themselves from others,” says Danny Beard, director of sales, International Dispensing Corp., Hanover, Md. “The cost of entry is significant, but the marketing pay-offs should be realized in a very short period of time. All that is to say that recent events are not the real driver for aseptic processing.”
IDC manufactures the Fresh Flow Tap, a FDA-certified aseptic one-way dispensing tap for bag-in-box packages. The one-way aseptic tap ensures beverages remain sterile and hygienic throughout the life of the product.
“Bag-in-box aseptic packaging is gaining momentum in the United States, particularly over the last two to three years,” says Paul Dean, commercial director-Food Products, Scholle Packaging Inc., Northlake, Ill.
As the pioneer of low-acid aseptic bag-in-box systems more than 30 years ago, Scholle has been reacting to this demand by developing new aseptic connector and dispensing fitments combined with high-speed low acid aseptic filling technology.
The growth of aseptic packaging sales is outpacing the overall food packaging industry, Prestes Lemos says.
Fluid milk is a large market for aseptic packages, but there’s also potential for coffee creamers, culinary cream, sweet condensed milk, milk-based desserts, yogurt drinks, flavored milk, dairy drinks, nacho cheese, soy-based beverages, teas and coffee products.
“Fluid milk is a small part of the total,” Beard says. “Practically all beverage types — juices, isotonics, flavored waters, functional beverages, etc. — that can benefit are being considered for aseptic packaging, along with fruit and vegetable concentrates, sauces, cooking stocks and nutraceuticals. The opportunities continue to grow as new beverages and ready-to-eat products are developed.”
This year, 100 percent fruit juices, isotonics, iced teas and lemonade in aseptic packaging will hit the market, says Gary Allanson, IDC president and chief executive officer.
“Growth in the U.S. markets for aseptic packaging has been limited by packaging innovations that offer consumers options such as convenience, pack size, re-sealing and shelf-life,” Allanson says.
Aseptic packagers agree that dairy processors aren’t using and marketing aseptic packaging to its fullest potential.
“In many ways, the fullest potential of milk is challenged by government regulations,” Prestes Lemos says. “Milk products are forbidden to use certain descriptors and language whereas other beverages like carbonated soft drinks are not. This impacts the ability to market aseptic milk as well as traditional milk. Nevertheless, there are some aseptic milk brands that do a fine job in marketing.”
Innovation is key in aseptic packaging, and packagers are hard at work to meet processors’ and consumers’ needs.
For Tetra Pak, the next big trend is the aseptic carton bottle, Prestes Lemos says. Tetra Aptiva Aseptic combines the taste and nutritional value of aseptic carton packaging with the appeal of plastic bottles, resulting in a package that is both a bottle and carton. Tetra Aptiva Aseptic is suited for the fast-growing market of on-the-go beverages distributed through vending machines, convenience stores, supermarkets and other retail channels. Offering a semi-cylindrical shape, the package has a wide, easy-to-drink-from opening with a resealable screw cap applied onto a plastic top.
“The Tetra Wedge Aseptic Clear 200 S, still in market development, is the world’s first aseptic transparent stand-up pouch,” Prestes Lemos says. “Designed especially for kids’ on-the-go drinks, it has a unique soft and squishy feeling and see-through look, which 6- to 12-year-olds find fun and cool, according to market research in North America and Europe.”
Scholle has developed the Sentry Safe lock system. “This provides customers with the very best method of packing and dispensing aseptically packaged products along with our aseptic filling equipment,” Dean says.
Allanson says IDC’s Fresh Flow Tap ensures that every drop of product is consumed. “Imagine never having to throw away another dairy product, fruit juice or coffee beverage because it went bad after the package was opened,” he says. “Given the rising energy costs and heightened safety concerns in the supply chain this packaging innovation has the potential to set new standards for aseptic dispensing and become ubiquitous.”
Consumers want safety, product quality and value, Allanson says. “They want to know that the package is tamper-evident and will keep the product safe through the supply chain. They want more products that are organic or natural and they want fewer preservatives in everything they consume. Aseptic processing delivers a better product than a hot-fill or retort process. They want value — as gas prices, home heating oil, and interest rates continue to climb, getting every penny out of the food and beverage packaging will be key.”
Companies like Tetra Pak and Uniloy Milacron — which originated the lightweight, handled, plastic milk jug in 1963 — also meet demand for extended-shelf-life milk in HDPE bottles in countries with limited refrigeration.
With 3,800 in use worldwide, Uniloy’s reciprocating blow-molding machine has become the industry standard, says Richard Smith, director of sales and marketing at the Tecumseh, Mich.-based company. “It’s simply the best technology for producing a lightweight three-layer HDPE container at the lowest cost.”
Uniloy introduces the first reciprocating blow molding machine capable of producing three-layer ESL bottles.
“ESL outside the U.S. is a huge market due to not having the type of cold chain we enjoy here,” Smith says. “ESL in the U.S. will grow but will be slowed by the preference of our palates for fresh milk. ESL fluid milk outside the U.S. is a huge market, however, liquid yogurt and soy-based drinks also use this technology. However, I see no reason why other types of dairy could not use this technology also.”
A Lasting Impression
The often-made argument that consumers won’t accept aseptic is one that’s not lost on packagers.
“We aspire to add incremental sales to the dairy industry by proving value to consumers where refrigerated products cannot go. We are not going to fool ourselves or anyone else for that matter that we can compete against plastic gallons of white milk,” Prestes Lemos says. “However, consumers who do purchase aseptic milk are very loyal to the product and value it. Consumers don’t consume carbonated soft drinks warm either, yet millions buy warm cases of it everyday. Generally speaking, moms buy aseptic milk for their kids to give them a healthy beverage, or smaller households buy it for the pantry-loading convenience.”
Because the cost of aseptic milk also inhibits its growth for traditional fluid milk opportunities, the much bigger opportunities within the dairy industry are for more value-added products such as drinkable yogurts, dairy-based coffee beverages and soy milk, Beard says.
Dean says in bag-in-box applications, consumers are already buying or using products that have been aseptically processed and packed. “In some applications, the product is stored at ambient temperature until ready for dispensing and then may be chilled — for example, milk or other dairy products — or heated — for example, nacho cheeses.”
Allanson speaks of Meridian, Idaho-based The Good Cow Co.’s patented pasteurization process that enables aseptically prepared milk to taste fresh paired up with IDC’s dispensing innovation.
“Given time and the correct marketing push, consumers will accept shelf-stable milk if the taste, quality and use-life are superior to traditional cartons of milk,” he says. “The same question faced the milk industry when it shifted from glass jugs to paper cartons to plastic jugs. It simply boils down to taste, quality and the value proposition to consumers.”
Shonda Talerico Dudlicek is a freelance journalist and a former managing editor of Dairy Field.
Aseptic packaging means filling a sterilized package with a sterile food under a confined hygienic environment. In the aseptic packaging process the product passes from the ultra-high-temperature (UHT) treatment in a closed system to the packaging machine. There it is packed under aseptic conditions in a packaging material, which is sterile and keeps out light and air. Aseptic technology keeps food safe, fresh and flavorful for at least six months without refrigeration or preservatives.
Extended-shelf-life (ESL) milk is heated to a temperature between 185 to 260.6 degrees F for a minimum of two seconds. ESL milk can be stored refrigerated for up to 21 days and is as nourishing as pasteurized milk. Longer shelf life is based on an unopened package and refrigeration.
SOURCE: www.tetrapak.com$OMN_arttitle="Taking Its Time";?>